The BIG Interview : Dermot Lavery, Producer/Director, Doubleband Films
Business is hectic but we can do more
Hectic! Our company, DoubleBand, has never been so busy as it has in the last three years. This year we are in production for the BBC locally and nationally, as well as RTE. While last year we had a bumper year in production for Channel 4, BBC and RTE all at the one time.
You can still do more, of course. It’s hard, however, not to be mindful of the unpredictable financial climate and it means we have to keep a close eye on developments within the industry. Having said that, while considered a success story locally, we are ambitious to gain more commissions from the national TV networks in both the UK and Ireland.
ANY EXCITING PROJECTS IN THE PIPELINE?
Yes, lots! We have an exciting slate of programmes on BBC Northern Ireland this Autumn.
We recently completed ‘Dying for a Drink’ with the excellent William Crawley, which BBC NI broadcast in September. Hot on the heels of that we had ‘Patrick Kielty and A Night in November’, a fascinating documentary about the restaging in Belfast of the controversial Marie Jones play. Currently we’re putting the final touches to two exciting new BBC series for 2009, the first about the amazing work of our top surgeons here in Northern Ireland, and the other, a trip down memory lane to the golden era of dancehalls in Northern Ireland. We’re also involved with a BBC drama about George Best, a programme on education and another on caravanning.
WHAT ARE THE LONG TERM PROSPECTS FOR YOUR COMPANY?
Based on the company’s trajectory and notwithstanding general concerns about the economy, I think the prospects are very good indeed. DoubleBand, to my amazement, is approaching its 20th year in existence and pleasingly has witnessed an average steady growth, particularly across the last six or seven years.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES FACING YOUR ORGANISATION?
Achieving the right balance between company and programme development and television programme production itself is the biggest challenge. The greatest opportunities are in production supply to the network UK broadcasting market, but the developmental costs required to compete are huge and undoubtedly risky for regionally-based small or medium-sized production companies.
COULD THE GOVERNMENT HELP YOU TO DO BUSINESS BETTER?
Without a doubt! Historically there has already been sterling support and leadership provided by organisations like Northern Ireland Screen and Invest NI. But like the individual efforts in our own production sector, their endeavours, in the absence of genuine ‘top down’ political support, have been almost like swimming against the tide.
Recently this has been thrown into focus by very forward-looking activity in Scotland and Wales, where their devolved parliaments are pro-actively driving the agenda of re-distributing production across the whole of the UK.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WORK FOR YOU?
Surely that’s the wrong question! Don’t you mean ‘why would anyone working for us want to leave?’ Nice people and interesting work, that’s why.
YOUR VIEWS ON THE ECONOMY, PLEASE.
I can only speak about my own sector and the creative industries in general. I think that the film and TV industries are going to be the success stories of the future and important elements in the re-imagining Northern Ireland in the future. The history of other
global models tells us that success in the creative industries can be a primer and an influential driver of success in the wider economy.
On a micro level hard work, a belief in ourselves, and an ability to ‘fly low’ when we had to, is what has underpinned our survival as a company through tougher times. Maybe there’s something in that!
THE BUSINESS CLIMATE — GOOD OR BAD?
The downturn in the economy has been a little slower to impact on the television production sector. Of course suppliers to the commercial broadcasters like ITV, where advertising revenue has been badly hit, are at the sharp end and very badly affected. Working for broadcasters like the BBC and RTE has had a relatively stabilising influence, largely because of the license fee funding.
WHAT AMBITIONS DO YOU HAVE ON A PERSONAL LEVEL?
It’s difficult to disentangle my personal ambitions from the plans my business partner, Michael Hewitt, and I have always had for DoubleBand Films, our precious joint project. Put simply, it’s an ambition to make programmes that we are proud of. If we continue to succeed at that, and so far we’ve done all right, the rest will look after itself.
WHAT DO YOU GET UP TO IN YOUR SPARE TIME?
Spare time being an endangered species in my life, what little there is goes towards supporting my 14-year-old son’s footballing ambitions.